"Who We Were" is a squarish book befitting the square snapshots within. The authors are collectors of black and white snapshots, or “vernacular photography” as the fancy set likes to say. I've come to know Nicholas Osborn through our mutual fondness of home movies. He's displayed his curated collection of photos at museums, galleries, and on his website at www.squareamerica.com. He and his co-authors have chosen 350 amateur photos spanning some 80 years to tell the story of America in "Who We Were".
Spanning the decades from about 1890 through the 70's, "Who We Were" is a collection of amateur anthropology. These random snapshots found at thrift stores and flea markets could be our relatives doing all the important stuff in life; waving to airplanes, drinking a beer... and of course taking pictures of it all. It's doubtful that the original photographers sought to create art, but somehow when collected together these private yet shared memories take on the qualities of art photography.
The photos capture regular people being themselves, and the book wisely lets the photos speak for themselves too. Most pages feature a single picture annotated with anecdotes from the original photographers, or a reproduction of text written on the back of the picture. It only takes a few pages to travel silently between the finer moments of family life and some of the most unfortunate and shameful times in our history.
I'm sure no one thought taking a picture of yet another doughy guy soaking up 50's leisure would be important in the future. I'm grateful to both the photographer for taking the picture, and to the authors of "Who We Were" for doing such a good job of keeping these little bits of history alive.
We live in a time where it's cheaper and easier than ever to take loads of digital photos. The problem is that few people print out pictures anymore. That means no artifacts for future generations (even our own families) to find. "The Way We Were" shows the continued historic value of physical media. Years from now will amateur historians dig through the piles of discarded cell phones to try to dig out grainy low res pictures of life today? I hope so. This book reminds us of what we owe the future - inadvertent art
Here's some great news... The authors gave us an autographed copy of their book to give away to one lucky Retro Thing reader. All readers are eligible to enter. All you have to do is add a comment to this post talking about your favorite snapshot. If you'd like, you can even upload a little version of it to share with all of our readers. Just say a few words about what makes it special to you. On February 7th, we'll pick one comment at random to win the book.
One additional note. Just like our last giveaway, if you're from outside the US or Canada we welcome your entry, but require that you cover the shipping costs to your country. Thanks for understanding, and good luck to all of you!
Bring a little piece of square America home by purchasing "Who We Were" at ten dollars off the cover price. As a bonus you'll receive a genuine vintage snapshot and a DVD of some of Nick's home movie collection.
You can also find the book at Amazon.com